Annal: 2012 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Biography

Results of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in the year 2012.

Book:The Last Sane Man

The Last Sane Man: Michael Cardew: Modern Pots, Colonialism, and the Counterculture

Tanya Harrod

The British studio potter Michael Cardew (1901-1983) was a man of paradox, a modernist who disliked modernity, a colonial servant who despised Empire, a husband and father who was also homosexual, and an intellectual who worked with his hands. Graduating from Oxford in 1923, training with the legendary Bernard Leach, he went on to lead a life of pastoral poverty in Gloucestershire, making majestic slipware and participating in the polarised design and political debates of the 1930s. A wartime project in Ghana turned him into a fierce critic of British overseas policies; he remained in West Africa intermittently until 1965, founding a local tradition of stoneware inspired by the ambient material culture, independent of European imports, made by Africans for Africans. He ended his days a ceramic magus, his pottery at Wenford Bridge, Cornwall, an outpost of the counterculture and a haven for disaffected youth. In North America, the Antipodes and sub-Saharan Africa he offered the egalitarianism of craft as an antidote…[more]

Book:Circulation: William Harvey's Revolutionary Idea

Circulation: William Harvey's Revolutionary Idea

Thomas Wright

Arguably the greatest Englishman in the history of science after Isaac Newton, a vivid and visceral biography of William Harvey, who discovered the circulation of the blood, and brilliant portrait of seventeenth-century thought and imagination.

Diminutive, brilliant and choleric, William Harvey had a huge impact on anatomy and modern biology. Arguably the greatest Englishman in the history of science after Newton and Darwin, Harvey’s obsessive quest to understand the movement of the blood overturned beliefs held by anatomists and physicians since Roman times. His circulation theory was as controversial in its day as Copernicus’ idea that the earth revolved around the sun.

Set in the beating heart of late Renaissance London, Thomas Wright’s vivid and visceral biography shows how Harvey drew inspiration not only from his dissections and vivisections, but also from the world around him: from England’s bustling trade…[more]

Book:Joseph Anton: A Memoir

Joseph Anton: A Memoir

Salman Rushdie

On February 14, 1986, Valentine’s Day, Salman Rushdie was telephoned by a BBC journalist and told that he had been “sentenced to death” by the Ayatollah Khomeini, a voice reaching across the world from Iran to kill him in his own country. For the first time he heard the word fatwa. His crime? To have written a novel called The Satanic Verses, which was accused of being “against Islam, the Prophet, and the Quran.”

So begins the extraordinary, often harrowing story—filled too with surreal and funny moments—of how a writer was forced underground, moved from house to house, an armed police protection team living with him at all times for more than nine years. He was asked to choose an alias that the police could call him by. He thought of writers he loved and combinations of their names; then it came to him: Conrad and Chekhov—Joseph Anton. He became “Joe.” …[more]

Book:Portrait of a Novel: Henry James

Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece

Michael Gorra

A revelatory biography of the American master as told through the lens of his greatest novel.

Henry James (1843–1916) has had many biographers, but Michael Gorra has taken an original approach to this great American progenitor of the modern novel, combining elements of biography, criticism, and travelogue in re-creating the dramatic backstory of James’s masterpiece, Portrait of a Lady (1881). Gorra, an eminent literary critic, shows how this novel—the scandalous story of the expatriate American heiress Isabel Archer—came to be written in the first place. Traveling to Florence, Rome, Paris, and England, Gorra sheds new light on James’s family, the European literary circles—George Eliot, Flaubert, Turgenev—in which James made his name, and the psychological forces that enabled him to create this most memorable of female protagonists. Appealing to readers of Menand’s The Metaphysical Club and McCullough’s The Greater Journey, Portrait of a Novel provides a brilliant account of the greatest American novel of expatriate life ever written. It becomes a piercing detective story on its own. 10 illustrations

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